POLITICS

Andy Ferguson's family hopes federal budget will save interns' lives

04/22/2015 01:23 EDT | Updated 07/17/2015 03:59 EDT
An Edmonton family hopes the new federal budget will save the lives of young workers in Canada.

The budget introduced by federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver on Tuesday proposes to amend the Canada Labour Code to place interns under federal jurisdiction, whether they are paid or not, and clarify the circumstances under which unpaid internships are offered.

"I hope this will lead to better protection for interns and students working in federal industries, where they can be protected," said Matthew Ferguson. "And hopefully what happened to my brother doesn't happen to someone else."

Ferguson believes his brother Andy Ferguson fell asleep while driving home after working excessive hours as an intern at an Edmonton radio station in 2011.

He crashed head-on into a gravel truck after working an overnight shift.

Ferguson said his brother had worked 16 hours in a 24-hour period and had tried unsuccessfully to refuse the shift that preceded his death.

The unpaid practicum was a requirement of the broadcasting program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).

"I truly believe he was taken advantage of in his place of employment," Ferguson said.

"Since his accident, I found it frustrating and disheartening that there was nothing out there at the federal level ... that would have protected him."

After Andy's death, Ferguson tried to complain to the Alberta government but says he was told it could not help, because broadcasting is a federally regulated industry.

A spokesperson for the then-federal labour minister, Lisa Raitt, told Ferguson that only paid employees are protected by the Canada Labour Code, and that any hours Andy worked without being paid were not covered by federal law.

Since the death, Ferguson and his family have been working to get protection for interns under the Canada Labour Code. 

He said Tuesday's announcement came as a surprise.  

"I didn't expect it at this scale, or this quickly, but it's still very exciting that it has come out today."

Under the proposed ammendment, interns will be protected under Occupational Health and Safety and are subject to basic safety standards, Ferguson said, though more changes are still needed. 

Ferguson credited the federal NDP, which pushed hard for the legislation.